And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; but behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.
-3 Nephi 12:43-45
In thinking about common beliefs between a libertarian-minded individual like myself and a neo-conservative of today’s ilk, I had a hard time thinking about what we actually do agree on. Perhaps I, like Pat Buchanan, feel a little betrayed by the now dominant neoconservative ideology among the GOP. Perhaps this perspective clouds my judgment.
First off, what does neoconservatism mean to me? I like the Irving Kristol definition best: “A neoconservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.” In other words, a liberal with the idea that some liberal programs and mindsets are neither feasible nor realistic. But note they are defined as a liberal, meaning they have the same sorts of aims that modern-day liberals do: state inteventionism to solve problems. They just want to scale it back a little. That’s my take, and I think it is a relatively accurate reflection of reality.
The neoconservative ideology has never been more dominant than it is now in the GOP. We can see this in the huge growth in domestic government in the last few years under a Republican Presidential administration and a largely Republican Congress (i.e. No Child Left Behind, Medicare Prescription Drug Program, etc.). We can see this most especially in the aggressive foreign policy agenda pursued now by the Bush administration and the entire GOP, with few exceptions. How many presidential candidates, for instance, were even uncomfortable with a nuclear pre-emptive attack on Iran? Most seemed alarmingly at peace with the idea.
What is the global goal? One is for the United States to retain its sole superpower status. This chilling statement from William Kristol is quite telling about the reach of this foreign policy: “The world is a mess. And, I think, it’s very much to Bush’s credit that he’s gotten serious about dealing with it… The danger is not that we’re going to do too much. The danger is that we’re going to do too little.” To me, there’s nothing conservative about this statement.
It should be clear that for the most part, commonalities on foreign policy are out. Nor do I notice neoconservatives, in general, expressing concern for civil liberties and Constitutional rights related to the War on Terror. It’s hard to find common ground there.
As a movement, it is quite amorphous and has a wide spectrum of views on domestic policy, but in general, they are less liberal than most liberals and more liberal than most other conservatives. This is a possible area of common belief.
1. We must be very careful with what the government does with the taxpayer’s money. We may be able to agree on more caution than is presently used with respect to government spending. In some areas, like economic regulation, it would be an uphill battle for me, but in other areas where a serious political conflict exists with the Democrats (i.e. expanding government’s involvement in health care), common opposition to growth is possible.
2. Taxes should be cut. Low taxes are good. They help nearly everyone.
3. Budgets should be balanced. I’m going to go out on a wing and hope that there are some neoconservatives out there that still believe in balanced budgets, and are opposed to the current spending habits in Washington.
4. Influence of special interests should be reduced. We may go about this in different ways, but I think many neoconservatives would agree that special interests are too powerful in swaying government decisions.
5. We should only go to war as an absolute last resort. I hold out the belief that there are neoconservatives who truly do believe that we should only go to war as a last resort, despite Bill Kristol’s assertions to the contrary, as mentioned above.
Neoconservative views of free markets (i.e. NAFTA, WTO, etc.) differ significantly from my own. I view large bureaucratic organizations as obstacles to free trade or faciliatators of corporately-biased trade policies rather than allowing for free trade in the classical liberal way. I’m also concerned about sovereignty issues where these supranational organizations are concerned. However, it is possible that there could be some common ground when it comes to economic policy.
Many neoconservatives share the hope of a better world. The question is: what is the ideal role of the United States government in that vision? I believe that many mainline conservatives hold some aspects of traditional conservatism, of which paleoconservatism is a closer reflection, in my opinion. And so a future post should discuss paleoconservatism (or traditional conservatism) and its compatibility with the classical liberal mindset.
This has been an interesting exercise for me to reflect on common ground with neoconservatives, who I consider to be a bit of an enemy, as you probably gathered from the scriptural quote at the beginning. Let me restate that we (myself included) are commanded to love everyone, including our enemies. Understanding and respect should be a part of that. Too often, it is not.